Saturday, November 14

Matthew's Voice

Matthew By The Lake - (Photograph by John-Brian Paprock, Paprock Photography 2015)
Taken along the north shore of Lake Mendota across the water from Madison Wisconsin in 2014

My younger brother Matthew died on November 3rd, 2015 at the age of 49 years old. I was grateful he asked for the opportunity to see him at the hospital before he died. He had requested the doctors do everything to keep him going until my brother (August), my sister (Dara) and I could be there. He wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday, but that was not until January. So, we decided to have a 50th birthday cake and balloons and a card on November 1st. He also wanted to watch his Green Bay Packers play - they played that night.
Celebration of my brother's 50th birthday - half a century of life! Before the Packer game. Photograph by John Summers.

At my brother's bedside on November 1st. Photograph by August Roderick.


Saying good bye was difficult - both a very loving and a very sad time. We played cards a last time. We remembered. We joked. We laughed. We cried. We forgave everything, he and I, for brothers often have some baggage that weighs on their relationship. He was freed from such burdens. I told he would be missed. I found an old picture of him and me in Chicago, before our  youngest brother was born.

Matthew (5 years old) and John-Brian (10 years old) in Chicago.
The only time one would be twice as old as the other. 
This picture is symbolic of the bond with my brother that would last a lifetime.
This is the letter I read as eulogy at my brother's Ninth Day Memorial at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Madison, Wisconsin.
Dear Matthew,
I want to hear your voice again, dear brother Matthew; the caring loving familiar voice of  my younger brother; the voice that joked and played and  laughed and, yes, fought, as brothers can.


I want to hear your voice again, even if it means listening to profound fear seeping through the joy and love during your last days; or listening to the lamenting of lost love, or the ranting of frustration with a system that you could not fight any more. I hoped you would fight back as you always did and hold your ground, but you could not this time. You always wanted to stand tall without help from anyone, until pain curled your back and walking required a cane.


In our childhood, we played together as best friends, especially during the lonely years when we moved from place to place with a mother who was searching for her own salvation and sobriety. She found both when we came to Madison. And you, my dear brother, found your very own home-sweet-home. You got to grow up here, attending every school year in the same school system. You found in Madison, a safe home base and friends, lots and lots of friends, many you have had most of your life. It seems proper to have finished your life here in Madison.


Yet, I would hear your voice again. That voice that would reach across distances of miles and weeks just to say “hello.”  I will miss our card games and our discussions of the spiritual and the mundane. I will miss watching football with you.  I am filled with joyous memories of our life as family and friends. 


I will always be grateful for the opportunity you gave us at the end. Thank you for the love you shared during your last waking hours. Thank you for the hug as I kissed your hand. I held it as tight as I could.  Thank you the shared tears at “good bye” and “good journey.” Thank you for being my faithful brother and my dutiful friend. My dear brother, I wish I could hear your voice and see your smile one more time, but I cannot.  You passed away quietly and peacefully in the evening of November 3rd.  We are brothers forever and I will miss you the rest of my life.  Eternal memory, my dearest brother Matthew.
Ninth Day Memorial service at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Madison, Wisconsin. November 12, 2015. 
Fr. Michael Vanderhoef officiated. The church Philoptochos Society made traditional koliva for us. 
The cups on the table were left after koliva was served to the ~50 people that came to the memorial. A
 picnic celebration memorial of my brother's life is being planned for warmer months at his favorite Madison park.

Friday, June 12

Home Town

Home Town Thoughts
by John-Brian Paprock

Until recently, I had no hometown. I realized recently that I always felt like a visitor, and not always a welcomed visitor. Now I understand some of this was an attempt to deal with a childhood of constant change and trauma.

By the time we arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, when I was 11 years old, we had lived in four states, two countries, five metropolitan areas, 14 addresses - and have been to 10 different schools. I guess the large metropolitan areas of Mexico City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, and San Francisco all had an impact in my life, but Chicago and Los Angeles had the greatest. I lived most of my life in Madison - over 40 years.

Locations in Madison where I lived as a pre-teen and teenager in the 1970s. All the buildings were still standing in 2014
As a young adult, I chose to live in New York City, a profound experience that was the only time as an adult that I had lived away from Madison, Wisconsin, until I moved to Minneapolis in 2014.

Places in and around Madison where I lived as a young adult into 2013.
It is a profound sense of stability, even though I moved from Madison, it remains my hometown with all the memories, the ups and downs, the special nooks and crannies, that make a hometown different from any other place on the planet. I am grateful for my hometown - all the lessons and all the blessings that have contributed to the man I am today.  God bless Madison, Wisconsin.

Wednesday, June 10

I Don’t Want To Be A Bitter Old Man: A Reflection on Modern Aging

Paprock Photography 2015
Paprock Photography 2015
I Don’t Want To Be A Bitter Old Man: A Reflection on Modern Aging
by John-Brian Paprock
I don’t want to be a bitter old man or one slumped over in despair or shuffling in the fog of disappointment and regret. Yet, I have felt fragile and vulnerable more as a middle aged man than I have as a young adult. Back then I could take risks without contemplating the consequences or cringing at physical limitations, even though there were consequences and there were limitations. 

I have felt the dull shadow of death approaching as I grow older – and I wonder what I am afraid of.  I have lived half my life (I hope) without such angst. When I was younger, I felt the angst of being too young and without experience. Now, my angst is more about not seeing that what I have done has lasting value, not being able to tell what will I leave behind, and not being able to predict  my final years.  Will I be surrounded by loved ones or abandoned? Will I be forgotten even before I have left his world? Will I be impotent in the physical limitations of disease and old age?

In me there is such a strong desire to be alive until the day I must give my breathing.  Yet, I have witnessed so much neglect and abuse, so much disease and fragility among those that have reached old age before me.  At the same time, I know there are those that seem to defy this despairing and whimpering weakness to which I am admitting.

A friend is fond of reminding me that it is only today that we have to live. In today, there is always opportunity. I agree whole-heartedly agree, yet I squander hours in a melancholy daze of “what if’s” without feeling that I have any further chances to fulfill my life purpose.

Another friend reminds me of how much I have to live for by reminding me of what I have already accomplished in this life: helping others, benefitting society, my profession, projects finished and service fulfilled.  Yet, I have the nagging sensation that I have nothing, that none of that really matters.

A mentor of mine recently asked me to recollect what was going on in my life thirty years ago.  I recalled a bold young man that had moved to New York City to study and serve the community where he lived.  That mentor then asked if I could recall twenty years ago. I remembered a young father serving the Midwestern community where he lived with courage and innovation. I recalled fatherhood and leadership roles.  My mentor then asked if could recall ten years ago. And again, I could see that man, now entering middle age, serving the church and community in which he lived.  He then encouraged me to consider the decades yet ahead, asking me to think about the number of times I lost track of time while doing what was true to my heart in the decades past. I resisted acknowledgment of his wisdom.

Sometimes the sadness of my life is overwhelming and my periods of self-exile from the world preferable to the demands of my own egoistic impulses that are driven by lack of confidence in the face of social interaction.  I still feel like a bumbling 7th grader or eager-to-be-accepted 4th grader, not sure of my footing, not clear of my social standing. I walk out among my fellow humans often feeling naked, embarrassed without reason or cause, already sensitive and sore, bruised and vulnerable.

As a child, I was abused, bullied, sullied and humiliated. I was neglected, impoverished and ignored, damaged.  I was afforded a few adults and fellow children who encouraged me, stood up for me, asked of me one thing above all others, “Take the high road.” I had adults pray for me from distances that confounded me. God and His angels were there as I slogged through a painful childhood, bringing joys of the created world and thrills of creativity into my life.  Despite adult accolades in my youth and opportunities created by strangers and teachers, I would end up with dust in my mouth from a sudden fall to the ground due a certain naiveté, a lack of confidence, fears of the intention of others, my emotional need to be accepted.  This continued into my adulthood.  With every fall,  a more determined effort to get up again. In my youth, I had a grit and determination that neared foolishness.  In my middle age, getting up again seems much harder than ever before.

Perhaps it is the death of my parents, separated by nine years, which brings a sense of futility to surface, even though hereditary and emotional flaws may have origin in generations before them. Maybe I miss the better side of each of them, where I had occasional endorsement and encouragement for my talents and abilities. Regardless of the psychological and hereditary baggage that I carry for them and because of them, I genuinely miss them.  The loss has had a profound impact on my aging. I am an orphan adult. I grew up not trusting adults would be available when I was overwhelmed, but hoping they would. There is still a part of me waiting for a trustworthy adult, even though I have been fortunate enough to meet many of them. It is hard to admit that, as an adult, I too have failed myself. 

Maybe I set my goals too high. Throughout my life, it seemed possible that anyone could be a millionaire, rich and famous.  As I have gotten older, it seems less and less likely.  It even seems possible that I will end up in some institutional nursing facility, divested of my belongings, limited by rules intended for my safety and the frailty of old age; so easily forgotten by youth. 

Yet, in the midst of my angst and anxiety, my depression and fear, my lifetime syndromes and chronic health complications, my aches and pains of all sorts, there is the light of eternity stretching forth to meet me. When I am able to focus on that light, all the dark and creepy things seem to fade as though covered in a dense fog.  There seem to be two main contributing inward connections to that light. One relaxes the heart, the other relaxes the mind. In that relaxation, there is a peace – sometimes fleeting across the horizon;  however momentary, that peace is real.

The relaxation of my heart comes when I give loving attention and show compassion. It doesn’t seem to matter where I direct that love nor does it seem to matter if the other responds, as long it is genuinely felt by me.  Whether towards God in prayer and worship, towards a loved one in caring interaction, towards animals, plants, even insects, the appreciation of those  outside myself and beyond myself can bring me to a forever place and connect me to the light. This requires cultivating gentleness and compassion, forgiveness and selflessness – often difficult in this modern age of such ruthless individuality and sectarianism.

The relaxation of my mind comes when I let go of agendas and expectations, accept what is and what was, and allow my thoughts and sensations to be free in the experience of the present moment.  The present moment is that constant reality that ties that past to the future. It is where all decisions are made. It is a place where divinity can be felt and eternity can be known.  When I am present and available to life, I am living in the moment that is here and now. I am aware of my surroundings and I am able to access my uniqueness. I belong to the present moment always. I do not have to force myself to belong, to fit in. This is the place and time where my dreams and visions meet the awesomeness of reality. This is the place and time where prophecy is understood. It is the stepping off point for the rest of the journey and it is the forever place of the journey. As the saying goes, wherever you go there you are. 

In this relaxed mind and heart, I do not need to know the details of the future to be safe. I am comforted in my place in the created universe. I am unstressed about the timeline of my life, I can reflect on the details of my past without becoming enmeshed in the morass of shortcomings and short-falls. I can smile genuine smiles. I can love genuine love. I can be older.

Wednesday, January 21

Monumental Creativity

There is no question that I have been blessed by being in the presence of places of ancient sacredness whose spirituality seeps through the decades and centuries to the present.  There are some places that have an enigmatic circumstance in their creation.  Such are some of the large architectual and artistic landmarks.  They are intricate collections of stone arranged in a unique pattern that is also completely understood to be directed by human will. 

There are ruins of archeological significance that capture the imagination, like the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico or ancient cities abandoned long ago or just left over puzzles that has yet to be solved. These are not like skyscrapers or the modern giant shopping malls or warehouse grocery stores.

The first picture is one such place in Wisconsin. 
Bird Rock Effigy - Hager City, Wisconsin

Then these places of monumental art that have a particular spiritual quality to them. The builders have been individuals at the edge of their communities. Called crazy by some, eccentric by others, these builders and visionaries have been described honestly with all their quirkiness. The description could even be on the autistic by modern diagnostic standards. The places they have left us endure, complete with a certain intimacy that intrigue and baffle those that study them and write of their history. The explanations for building seem to be as distinct and different as the unique individuals who put extraordinary amounts of time, energy and resources into their creations.  At the same time, there is a similarity of form and structure.  There is no evidence these men even knew each other.  

[words, photographs and collages by John-Brian Paprock, all rights reserved]

Petrified Forest Monument Park in South Dakota

Holy Family Grotto in Wisconsin

Rudolph, Wisconsin

Holy Ghost park and shrine in Dickeyville, Wisconsin

Holy Ghost park and shrine in Dickeyville, Wisconsin

Holy Ghost park and shrine in Dickeyville, Wisconsin
Watts Towers in Los Angeles